If you believe you have been discriminated against because of a disability or medical condition, or you believe that you are in need of an accommodation from an employer, it is very important to talk to an experienced employment law attorney can listen to your story and help you understand what your rights are under Illinois state and federal law. First, it is important for you to understand that many medical conditions can qualify as a “disability” under state and federal workplace laws, and the condition does not need to be obvious to the casual observer.
A medical condition does not have to be physical in order for it to be considered a disability, and psychiatric and physiological conditions may also qualify as disabilities, such as anxiety or depression. Similarly, many ongoing and chronic internal medical conditions also qualify as disabilities under the law, such as migraines, diabetes, cancer, multiple sclerosis, and arthritis. Second, is important to know that unlike other forms of discrimination (such as discrimination on the basis of race or gender), disability discrimination not only requires equal treatment of persons with disabilities but also requires that the employer take the affirmative step of accommodating employees with disabilities so that they are able to perform their jobs. This duty to accommodate however is not unlimited, and employer’s duty only extends to the point of providing a “reasonable accommodation” that will not pose an undue hardship on the employer.
An employer does not need to provide the employee with the accommodation that they necessarily requested or preferred, but only accommodation which will permit the employee to perform their job duties despite the limitations of their disability. What is considered a reasonable accommodation under the law will depend upon the size and wealth of the employer, the nature of the business or industry, and the nature of the employee’s specific job duties. Accommodations which are very expensive, require that other employees perform part of the disabled person’s job, or require a dramatic change in the workplace environment will probably not be considered “reasonable”.
More common reasonable accommodations include things like a more flexible work schedule, special desks or office equipment, or additional time off to deal with the effects or treatment of the medical condition. If you suffer from a disability and you need an accommodation, there are no magic words that you need to invoke in order to obtain protection under the law. However, it is necessary that the employer is aware of your disability and your need for an accommodation, and the best way to do that is through a written communication to a supervisor or human resources representative. You should also be prepared to communicate with your doctor about your employer and to have your doctor communicate with your employer to validate your medical condition and discuss accommodation options. Because doctors often times do not understand the legal nuances of disability discrimination and the requirements of accommodations, it is a very good idea to have an attorney communicate with your doctor prior to the doctor making a recommendation about accommodations. A poorly thought-out doctor’s note will oftentimes make things worse, not better.